DTE Buckler Station Gets Planning OK

Following a previous postponement by the Ann Arbor planning commission, the site plan for a new DTE Buckler electrical substation at 984 Broadway near Canal Street got the go-ahead from commissioners at their June 5, 2012 meeting.

Commissioner Erica Briggs made a motion to postpone again, but it died for lack of a second. Briggs had not attended the commission’s May 15, 2012 meeting when this proposal was first discussed, and she expressed concern that the commission had not undertaken a broader conversation about the community’s energy needs. It was a rare opportunity for that, she noted, given that projects like this don’t occur frequently. She used an analogy to transportation – if a proposal came in to widen all the roads in the community, that wouldn’t automatically move forward. This project will essentially widen the energy capacity for the city, at a time when the community is talking about the need to reduce its energy use, she said. None of the other commissioners at the meeting were supportive of another postponement.

The project entails building the new Buckler substation in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center – to provide an increase in electrical power to the downtown area due to increased demand for electricity. The project will include two 15.5-foot tall electrical transformers and related electrical equipment on raised concrete pads, and a new power delivery center (PDC) – a 630-square-foot, 12.5-foot tall steel structure. A new six-foot tall perimeter chain link fence will be built, with one foot of barbed wire and a concrete block retaining wall. The source of power will be transmitted through underground sub-transmission cables in an existing manhole and conduit system.

Because of floodplain issues, DTE has proposed to build raised transformer pads by bringing in 800 cubic yards of fill. To mitigate that impact to the floodplain, DTE plans to remove 1,155 cubic yards of earth on the MichCon site at 841 Broadway. [MichCon is a DTE subsidiary.] The proposal also calls for removing a building on the MichCon site, which will give the company an additional 55 cubic yards of  ”floodplain mitigation credit.” The proposal for this MichCon portion of the project received unanimous approval by planning commissioners at their May 15, 2012 meeting.

Staff had previously requested a postponement to resolve some outstanding issues with the site plan, which were addressed by the June 5 meeting. The June 5 approval came with several contingencies, however: (1) obtaining variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the conflicting land use buffer and storm water detention requirements; (2) obtaining a Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) permit for work within the floodplain, prior to issuance of building permits; (3) relocating the fire hydrant and construction of associated water main, prior to the issuance of building permits; (4) completion of required footing drain disconnects, prior to final inspection approval; and (5) execution of water main easements, prior to final inspection approval.

The project was approved on a 5-1 vote, with dissent from Briggs. Three commissioners – Bonnie Bona, Evan Pratt and Kirk Westphal – were absent. The project does not require additional approval from the city council.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers of city hall at 301 E. Huron, where planning commission meetings are held. A more detailed report will follow: [link]